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Mrs. Gray's English Website


General Information

*Hamlet is written in blank verse, also called unrhymed iambic pentameter.


*The Renaissance philosophy which influenced the thought and literature of Shakespeare’s time was humanism. Humanism is the idea that all of the capabilities and virtues peculiar to human beings should be studied and developed to their furthest extent.

*One monarch who reigned in England in Shakespeare’s time was Elizabeth I.

*The theater of which Shakespeare was part owner was The Globe Theater.

*The story on which Hamlet is based was an ancient one; versions of it are found in Byzantine, Greek, and Roman myth called Amleth.

Literary Terms:

Soliloquy – a long speech that expresses what a character is thinking.

Monologue – a long speech to another character.

Aside – when the action of the play stops and one character briefly speaks to the audience.


  • If a speech is addressed to another person or group of people, it is called a monologue.
  • If a speech is addressed to the speaker himself, it is called a soliloquy.
  • Character speaks briefly to the audience.




Hamlet says he will “speak daggers” to the queen which means he wants to curse her.

Hamlet uses the metaphor of “being played like a pipe” when he is describing the fact that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have betrayed him.

The story of Fortinbras is another example of a metaphor.

“To be or not to be” reveals that Hamlet is contemplating suicide. He fears the after-life would be worse than living. It, also, reveals his indecisiveness. He can not commit to killing Claudius.

“Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark” illustrates the theme of an evil and corrupt king has a diseased nation.


*Setting: Elsinore in Denmark

*First To See Ghost: Horatio (Hamlet’s friend), Marcellus, and Bernardo. The ghost is frowning and wearing armor which is a bad omen.

*Laertes, the son of Lord Chamberlain Polonius, is getting ready to leave for France. He leaves his sister,     Ophelia, with a warning not to pay much attention to Hamlet, who is trying to court her. Polonius also gives advice to Laertes.  Claudius tells Hamlet that prolonged grieving for his dead father is not right.

*The ghost calls Hamlet and Hamlet follows him.

*The ghost tells Hamlet the horrible secret--- his father did not die from a serpent’s bite but from poison. His father was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, who has now married Hamlet’s mother.

*Transformation of Hamlet. Hamlet changes from civilized and intelligent to someone completely enraged by his uncle’s murderous deed. He wants revenge.

*Hamlet decides to act insane so that no one will suspect him. He makes Horatio and Marcellus swear to tell no one what has happened.

*Later on, Ophelia tells her father in a fright that Hamlet appeared to her in a state of undress acting strangely.

*Polonius believes that this madness is due to the fact that Ophelia doesn’t love Hamlet back. He goes to tell the King this.

*The King and Queen agree that Hamlet has gone insane. To find out the reason for this, the King sends two of Hamlet’s friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to talk to Hamlet. Polonius, wordy as usual, relates his reason for Hamlet’s madness: he is hopelessly obsessed over Ophelia.

*A group of players arrive, much to the interest of Hamlet.

*He asks one of them to perform The Mouse Trap the next day, with a few changes by Hamlet. Since this play is similar to the situation Claudius and Hamlet’s father, Hamlet can figure out if the ghost was truthful. If the King reacts to the play, Hamlet will surely know that the ghost was speaking the truth.

*While Hamlet is alone, he delivers his most famous "To be or not to be" speech. Here he contemplates suicide, with the conclusion not to take his life because things in the afterlife may be even more dreadful. Hamlet contemplates suicide as well as whether to seek revenge. His fear of suicide is whether things will be worse in afterlife (Hell).

* Ophelia appears to Hamlet, in an attempt to return the gifts that he gave her. Hamlet replies harshly that he never loved her.  Ophelia is left in sorrow, believing that Hamlet has truly gone insane.

*The King is not so sure and wishes to send Hamlet to England, suspecting that Hamlet may be a threat to him.

*During the play when the poison is poured down the victim’s ear (Claudius poured poison down King Hamlet’s ear), the King is greatly disturbed. He ends the play. He ends the play and runs out and calls for the lights to be turned on.

* Hamlet knows that the King is guilty.

*Hamlet goes to talk with his mother, who is scared that he has come to murder her. As she cries for help, Polonius (hiding behind the tapestry) speaks and is killed by Hamlet, who thinks that Polonius is the king. Hamlet tries to get the Queen to admit to her wrongs, but she doesn’t understand him.

*King Claudius decides that Hamlet must be put to death in England.

*Hamlet escapes this fate by rewriting the King’s letter, substituting his name with the names of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. So Hamlet escapes and the two men are put to death.

*Claudius learns that Hamlet did not arrive in England, Claudius brings Laertes into the plan. Laertes, enraged over the death of his father, is persuaded to kill Hamlet with a poisoned sword during a duel.

*Ophelia is distressed over the death of her father and becomes insane, singing songs. She later commits suicide by drowning.

*Laertes challenges Hamlet to a duel, Hamlet accepts.

*Before the duel, Hamlet asks Laertes for forgiveness.

*At the duel, the sword is poisoned. After the first half where Hamlet emerges victorious, the King uses his backup plan. He poisons a cup of wine and offers it to Hamlet. Hamlet refuses the wine, but the Queen drinks it. Before the King can stop her, she dies.

*At this moment, both Hamlet and Laertes are hit by the poisoned sword. Laertes tells the people that both he and Hamlet are injured by the poisonous weapon and that "the King’s to blame." Before Hamlet dies, he lunges at the King with the sword and kills him.

* Fortinbras returns from victory in Poland. Before Hamlet dies he, also,  names Fortinbras, as the next worthy King of Denmark. Horatio’s  says his last farewell to his dear friend Hamlet. Fortinbras states that Hamlet is to be given a soldier’s funeral because he saved Denmark from the evil king, Claudius.

Claudius is considered a Machiavellian character because he will do anything to maintain his power.




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